5 Things Rafael Benitez needs to improve for Newcastle to win Tyne-Wear derby
Published 15/03/2016 | 12:51
New Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez turned his attention to Sunday's pivotal derby clash with fellow strugglers Sunderland having tasted defeat at Leicester in the first of his initial 10 games at the helm.
There were positives for Benitez, who saw the side he inherited from Steve McClaren turn in a more organised and committed display at the King Power Stadium, but after just three training sessions, many of the same problems still remain.
Here, Press Association Sport considers what the Spaniard may be able to improve ahead of a game he simply cannot afford to lose.
Newcastle were significantly more compact under Benitez with full-backs Daryl Janmaat and Jack Colback tucking in to assist Steven Taylor and Jamaal Lascelles in the middle, and there was support too from the holding midfielders. However, despite the aerial presence and Taylor and Lascelles, too many times the ball was only half-cleared and that ultimately presented Leicester with the chance they needed to win the game.
It is no secret that Newcastle's full-backs, and in particular right-back Janmaat, push on in possession and when attacks break down, opponents have repeatedly reaped rewards from hitting the space they have vacated at pace. Janmaat was noticeably more selective in his forays forward at the King Power Stadium, but when he or whoever lines up on the left go, they must be covered.
There is little genuine pace in the Newcastle squad - hence the recruitment at great expense of Andros Townsend in January - but it is not just speed across the ground which is important. The Magpies are too often ponderous in their use of the ball, allowing defenders to get back into position before any damage can be done.
Newcastle have prospered this season - admittedly, not very often - when they have combined the service provided by Janmaat down the right, and latterly through the middle by new signing Jonjo Shelvey, with the movement of the likes of Georginio Wijnaldum, Moussa Sissoko and Ayoze Perez. They have become too static in recent weeks, making themselves easier to defend against, and that cannot be allowed to continue.
When a team does not create many chances, failure to convert enough of them can be all the more costly. Aleksandar Mitrovic has struggled for goals, Sissoko is yet to register all season and even Wijnaldum's purple patch was short-lived. With the club having failed to invest in the proven striker it so desperately needed either during the summer or in January, one or more of them needs to take on the responsibility of going for goal rather than hoping someone else might, and that comes down to confidence as much as technique.